WiMax vendors leap into testing

Rather than wait for the WiMax Forum's official testing programme, Airspan, Alvarion and Redline are looking to accelerate the process with private interoperability testing of their own kit

With official WiMax Forum testing delayed till the summer, three leading vendors have decided to carry out their own interoperability tests to try and convince customers that the wireless broadband technology is ready for use now.

Airspan Networks, Alvarion and Redline Communications are carrying out private testing of their products, which meet the IEEE 802.16-2004 specification, to show they work together. Official tests by the WiMax Forum were originally expected in January this year, but have been delayed till July.

"We are doing pre-certification, so we are in good shape to accelerate the process in July," said Paul Senior, vice president of marketing at Airspan, emphasising that the companies are not frustrated at the delay, but will be working with the Forum in parallel on setting up the eventual tests. "We are using drafts of the eventual WiMax Forum test specifications in our private tests," he said.

Alvarion also rejected the suggestion that the companies were at odds with the Forum. "It's the same people, doing the same tests on the the same products," said Rudy Leser, vice president of marketing at Alvarion. "The only difference is we will be doing it in our own labs."

The tests are to prove interoperability among the increasing number of delivered products, said Leser. "To have interoperability, the industry requires three vendors. If we had two it would not be enough."

The tests will focus first on physical connectivity at first, and then move on to the MAC layer. Senior said that other vendors were welcome to join the tests. Alvarion's kit is being used in BT's WiMax roll-outs in the UK and Ireland, while Airspan's will be used in a city-wide WiMax service in Tokyo.

WiMax Forum testing has been delayed by the demands of operators, said Leser: "During the last six or nine months, a lot of operators have joined the WiMax Forum. Those guys have added more requirements for testing and compliance."

However, he believes operator involvement, even though it may delay the tests, will ultimately be a good thing for WiMax: "They are operators, and they are asking good questions which we didn't think about before. We need a little bit more time, but it's not a delay because the industry is not there yet."

The WiMax Forum itself did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Observers have commented that the private tests could help deflect a potential WiMax backlash.

"While WiMax's number one fan, Intel, has continued to overhype the technology well beyond what it will be able to do, others appear to have realized the right way to fight back against the backlash is to prove that WiMAX can actually do something," said Mike Masnick, of wireless site, The Feature. "That is, no longer focus on the hype, but get something to market as fast as possible."

"This type of activity was expected," said Nancy Gohring of WiMax Networking News. "The independent testing gives vendors a better chance of quickly getting through the official certification process."